The concept of “global cuisine” is, by nature, imprecise. I perceive the term as meaning that a kitchen may prepare whatever ethnic-influenced food it wants.
Global cuisine can be Asian, European or Latin American. It can be Thai, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, Italian, Brazilian or even American.
With the impending transition of downtown Bend's Marz Bistro to a menu of American classic cuisine, few restaurants in Central Oregon will be able to call themselves “global.” One of them is Spork, the seasonal mobile kitchen whose chef, Jeff Hunt, spent several years at Marz. Another serving world cuisine is Level 2 Global Food&Lounge, on the second floor of the Fuel Building, above Saxon's Fine Jewelers in the Old Mill District.
Level, 2 opened in early September in a space that was originally the Old Mill Martini Bar, but had been vacant since April 2009. A venture of Howie and Ada Long, who own several Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants in Bend and Redmond, Level 2 has as its executive chef Rich Hall, another long-term veteran of the Marz kitchen as well as the Mercury Diner, Mangia Pasta and Astro Lounge.
Its Old Mill location has made Level 2 a holiday-season oasis for after-work shoppers, who are able to refuel with an extensive selection of small plates and specialty cocktails.
Unfortunately, based upon my tasting of eight different plates on two separate visits, I find food preparations inconsistent — sometimes excellent, as in the case of a pork tenderloin entree, but often heavy-handed and lacking subtlety.
As was true at its Martini Bar predecessor, the menu at Level 2 encourages tapas-style dining. It lists 14 small plates, more than the number of medium and large plates combined. A party could easily make a meal out of small plates alone, perhaps adding a single larger dish to share.
The best of the small plates that I sampled was the smoked pork-belly sliders. Two thick slices of tender, fatty pork, cooked in an in-house smoker, were presented on mini hamburger buns baked in Level 2's own oven. A leaf of butter lettuce, a thick slice of ripe tomato and tangy chipotle mayonnaise made these a melt-in-my-mouth treat.
But I wasn't as excited about the other small plates.
A cheesesteak egg roll — chopped steak and mozzarella with bits of tomato, wrapped in a pastry and deep fried — was greasier than it should have been. It was topped with a creamy Gorgonzola Mornay sauce, which is essentially a white bechamel sauce with Italian blue cheese added. I found it too bland.
The stuffed calamari was quite hearty. Tubes of small squid were filled with peppery Italian sausage, herbed bread crumbs, pine nuts and parsley, then cloaked in a red Italian marinara sauce and sprinkled with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. It could not be described as a delicately flavored dish.
The ahi tuna poke, one of the more popular items on the Level 2 list, would have been better had its marinade been lighter. Served on wonton chips with a mild wasabi cream sauce, the bites of sushi-quality tuna were tossed in a sticky-sweet soy reduction sauce with chopped macadamia nuts and mangos.
Of the entree-sized dishes, my favorite was the pork tenderloin medallions. The tender roasted meat was prepared with bite-size cippolini onions in a sauce of red wine and caramelized tomatoes. It was served with delicious mashed sweet potatoes, mango chutney and lightly dressed baby greens. If you're in doubt about what to order at Level 2, go with the pork.
An Indian-style korma curry was a nice dish. Served on Moroccan couscous (made with green apples and roasted red peppers) rather than basmati rice, it featured tiger prawns cooked with halved cashews in a curry blend of sesame oil, cashews, poblano chilies and heavy cream. The only traditional element was a side cup of raita, a yogurt sauce with minced cucumber.
I liked the steamed mussels, a “medium” plate, even though I thought the red chili-coconut milk broth had too spicy an edge. Raw bean sprouts and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro cut the heat. There was no shortage of shellfish in this dish: I shelled, I think, 18 mussels.
Ada Long makes most of Level 2's desserts, and her chocolate ganache cheesecake was a big hit with my sweet-toothed dining companion. “It has the perfect balance of sour and sweet,” she commented to me, noting that its light chocolate crust was an ideal complement to the creamy filling.
If you're planning a big night for New Year's Eve, Level 2 deserves consideration as a place to start. Drinks like the Stimulus (pear vodka, triple sec and fresh lemongrass), Dante's Juice Box (habanero vodka, mango puree and lime juice) and the Black Buffalo Manhattan (black cherry and Buffalo Trace bourbons with a dash of bitters) may be one of a kind.
The decor is pleasant and perhaps a bit understated. A lengthy bar dominates the long, slender main room, with a single, large flat-screen TV on the north wall. Artists' prints and paintings hang on original brick walls in side rooms that feature a combination of tall and normal-sized tables. One comfortable room has a couch for serious relaxation; an adjoining area is ideal for private group dining.
The restaurant's third level is not a part of Level 2, as it had been of the Martini Bar. It is available, however, for private events, such as the Rise Up International New Year's Eve benefit tonight.
General manager Jason Twillman, another former Marz employee, said that addition of that space is not in the immediate plans for Level 2, which he said wants to focus more on food and drink than on entertainment.
“I expect Level 2 to be here for a long time,” Twillman said. “I know that I still want to be here in five years, making this restaurant better and better.”
Restaurateur Gavin McMichael has announced that he will close the Marz Planetary Bistro in early January and replace it soon thereafter with an art deco-style restaurant serving “American classic cuisine.” The menu, he said, would include blue-plate specials and such dishes as chicken tetrazzini and beef bourguignon; the decor “will celebrate cocktail society” with brass tabletops and red velvet-upholstered booths. At this writing, McMichael — who also owns The Blacksmith and Bourbon Street Sea&Soul Food — had not yet settled on a name; he was considering Gatsby's and the Deco Bistro. 163 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-389-2025.
Just as Redmond's Saigon Village restaurant closed, a Portland couple has announced plans to open a new Vietnamese restaurant in Bend in mid-January. Saigon Village, located in the Fred Meyer Shopping Center in south Redmond, closed earlier this month. The new Pho Viet & Cafe Restaurant will be located in the remodeled former Rico's Tacos location at 1326 N.E. Third St., Bend; phone 541-382-2929. Owners Tan and Tammy Vo said they will serve lunch and dinner every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Common Table (A-): A volunteer staff serves modestly priced, organic and health-oriented international fare in an altruistic gathering place. Long tables, encouraging strangers to talk, occupy the renovated space that previously was the Cork Restaurant and Wine Bar. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on “pay-what-you-can” Monday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. 150 N.W. Oregon Ave., Bend; 541-639-5546, www .commontable.net.
Thai O Restaurant (B+): The area's best Thai food outside of downtown Bend is offered in Redmond's Fred Meyer Shopping Plaza by a father and son from Bangkok. Service is a bit shy, but prices are reasonable for quality and size of portions. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 974 S.W. Veterans Way, Suite 1, Redmond; 541-548-4883.
Letzer's Deli (A-): Bend's only authentic Jewish delicatessen has a pedigree that dates back to Southern California in the 1950s. Decor may be basic, but service is fast, quality is top notch and portions are huge. Patrons won't go wrong in ordering corned beef, pastrami and Swiss on rye. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. 1155 S.E. Division St. (Scandia Square), Bend; 541-306-4696, www.letzersdeli.com .
Shari's Restaurants (B+): These family-friendly restaurants, part of an Oregon-based chain, are known for their distinctive, six-sided design. Casual and well-lit, they feature solid comfort food at reasonable prices with homespun service, and are open 24 hours daily. 61135 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend (541-389-2405); 3098 N. Highway 97, Bend (541-382-0674); 1565 Odem Medo Road, Redmond (541-923-0400); www.sharis.com.